Istanbul's Pride Parade Is Cancelled – But Not Our LGBT Pride

by Guest Contributors

The authorities in Istanbul banned - yet again - the LGBT Pride Parade in the city. The fight for equality will continue, says Turkish LGBT activist Efe Songun.

This post originally appeared in The Daily Beast

The authorities have once again forced the cancellation of this weekend's Istanbul Pride Parade on Sunday.

The timing of the cancellation, announced Friday, is as significant as it is predictable: this year's Pride celebrations were launched on June 25th, soon after the Presidential elections that took place on that previous Sunday.

The Istanbul Pride Committee, which is comprised of LGBTQ activists and volunteers, has raised its concerns in prior years after the Istanbul Governor Vasip Şahin banned the Pride Parade. It will do so again.

This year's ban was expected considering the bans on other LGBTQ activities announced under the state of emergency earlier this year in Ankara. Even though the Parade has now been banned, LGBTQ activists will carry on with the activities that surround Pride Week, and an effort to mount a peaceful demonstration will be held to raise LGBTQ visibility.

A petition has been launched by the international advocacy group All Out to lobby Şahin to allow the march to go ahead. And on Sunday, activists are still determined to hold a march.

"Boundary" is the theme of the Istanbul Pride this year, which represents the current state of the Turkish LGBTQ movement where activists want to push invisible boundaries that are shaping our everyday life.

Activists have organized Istanbul Pride year after year since 1993, yet for the last four years the Pride Parade has been under attack by the police. Last week, one of the prominent LGBTQ organizations based in Istanbul, SPoD, was attacked on the first day of the Pride celebrations.

Then today, Friday, for the fourth year in a row, the Istanbul Governor banned the Istanbul Pride Parade.

The parade is an act of freedom of expression and an expression of our right to protest. It will not go ahead, but the activities that surround the event will still connect advocates from around the world who have come to Istanbul.

The cancellation of Pride comes as the authoritarian Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to exert his power in the country. In March, as the New York Times reported, 24 journalists were sentenced to jail.

As far as LGBTQ rights go in Turkey, gay sex is not illegal, and the age of consent is the same for heterosexuals and gay people; however, gay people are deemed "unfit" to serve in the county's military.

There are no discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in the country, same-sex marriage is not allowed, and there is no official recognition of same-sex partnerships in Turkey. While LGB people are not recognized by the law, for transgender people gender reassignment surgery and the issuing of identity cards is possible.

In everyday life, there is more repression, it’s more difficult to find safe spaces to live, to work and sustain ourselves.

Turkey is also a place where LGBTQ refugees from countries like Syria and Iraq wait while their applications to live in other countries in Europe are processed.

The most significant issue for LGBTQ refugees compared to other refugees living in Turkey is that they face a higher level of discrimination, considering there is no governing law for LGBTQ refugees in Turkey.

The present situation in Turkey reminds me of the Gezi Park demonstrations that took place in 2013. The demonstration had brought together many like-minded individuals from different political backgrounds and value systems to protest against the rising authoritarian regime. 100,000 people attended Pride that year, and though the authorities quashed the demonstrations at Gezi Park, the protests also brought many allies for the LGBTQ movement.

Before the Gezi Park demonstration, I was taking baby steps in my involvement with the Turkish LGBTQ movement and slowly crafting an LGBTQ arts and culture initiative to get more involved. Yet the demonstrations served a catalyst to me – as well as many allies – to get more deeply involved in the LGBTQ movement in Turkey.

The LGBTQ movement in Turkey is strong and sustaining. Yet the authoritarian regime's constant attacks has meant the LGBTQ movement and its freedom of expression here has been jeopardized in so many ways. Many LGBTQ individuals have fled the country to find safer places to live and love, and support the movement from afar.

We will see what happens this weekend. Then Turkish LGBTQ activists like me will continue with our work, supported by our peers and other allies, to establish LGBTQ rights and equality, despite the threats that we face every day. We hope that this year's Pride celebrations end as peacefully as possible, and that the Istanbul Pride Parade next year goes ahead.

Efe Songun is a LGBTQ activist from Istanbul, Turkey and founder of Harup. He is currently based in Washington D.C. as a Global Fellow at the Human Rights Campaign.